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WWBG: Syrah and Shiraz

By BethesdaNow.com

Friday - 2/1/2013, 3:30pm  ET

Editor’s Note: This weekly sponsored column is written by Arash Tafakor, owner of Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).

One of the most common questions I get from customers is, “What’s the difference between Shiraz and Syrah?” The simple answer from a wine merchant is nothing, there’s no difference, same grape just a different name. While Australia and some other regions call the grape Shiraz, other regions such as France, California and Washington State call the grape Syrah. But there are definitely differences in styles and taste profile; all based on the climate the grape is grown in. It has almost become industry standard in warmer climates such as Australia and South Africa to call the wine is called Shiraz. In cooler climates, such as Northern Rhone, Northern California, and Washington State the wine is called Syrah.

Saint Cosme Cote Rotie 2010, Cote Rotie, France

Syrah wine is originated in the Rhone region of France. Appellations in Northern Rhone such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage use only Syrah grapes for their red wines while Syrah in Southern Rhone is used to blend. Syrah from Northern Rhone tend to have more earthy tasting notes than your typical red. Premium Syrah typically come from Cote Rotie, Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph. These regions produce Syrah that contains an intense level of tannins, complex flavors and a long wonderful finish.

Made by one of Rhone’s top producers, this Syrah is a very well balanced wine with hints of violet, bacon, earthy flavors and roses.

This wine is extremely impressive and is sold out throughout the market. It received 95 points Wine Spectator, as well.

Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz 2011, Barossa Valley, Australia

In the early 2000s Australian Shiraz sales were booming. American wine consumers couldn’t get enough. The brand Yellow Tail was created and, along with other quirky animal labeled Australian Wines, took over grocery store’s wine shelves. Winemakers in Australia realized this and started producing high-end Australian Shiraz like crazy, flooding the market. Wine consumers probably have noticed wine shelves containing less and less Australian Shiraz the past few years. People are simply not buying these wines anymore, for whatever reason.

Despite that fact, the wine is much better than what it was ten years ago. Australian wine makers have perfected their craft and make top quality wines. Australian Shirazes are grown in Australia’s hot, dry climate. The warm climate produces powerful wines with dark ripe fruit, jammy, and silky smooth taste. Top quality Shiraz producing regions in Australia are the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra.

This wine comes from the Barossa Valley, arguably the best Shiraz producing region in Australia. This wine encompasses the best of Australian Shirazes have to offer, full bodied, fruit forward black fruit, medium tannins, perfect amount of spice and extremely smooth.

K Vintners “The Beautiful” Syrah 2010, Walla Walla, Washington

Syrah from North America is a tough sell to consumers. Our North American Syrah section is minimal. Consumers are not buying them nor are they looking to buy them. This is unfortunate because North American Syrah is very good.

The Syrah market in California has been stagnant for sometime now, but its northern neighbor Washington State has seen a boom of Syrah producing wineries.  Top quality regions for Syrah in Washington State are the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla. The climate of these regions typically means sunny warm dry days and cool nights, making it perfect for the Syrah grape. Syrah from these regions produce a plump, full-bodied, ripe wine with a perfect amount of acidity.

Winemaker Charles Smith is literally a rock star in the Washington State wine community. A former band manager turned self-taught wine maker, Smith has been making premium Syrah since 2001. Smith’s high-end wines often sell out immediately and are very hard to get, “The Beautiful” being one of them.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

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